TIFF 2010: Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zhen review

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TIFF 2010: Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zhen review
(This is cross-posted from GradyHendrix.com where I blog about temp jobs and bad movies. Well, some good movies. But mostly bad.)

Watching LEGEND OF THE FIST: RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is like watching Donnie Yen masturbate to photos of Bruce Lee while staring at himself in a mirror. Rarely has a movie this racist, this gory, this self-satisfied and with this many close-ups of Shu Qi been so boring, but LEGEND OF THE FIST: RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is so packed with cliches, so stuffed with under-rendered digital effects and so clogged with half-baked plotlines that it induces yawns where it wants to provoke fist-pumping nationalism.
The story has been told before. Bruce Lee played Chen Zhen back in 1972′s FIST OF FURY, and then Jet Li played him in 1994′s FIST OF LEGEND, directed by Gordon Chan who wrote and produced LEGEND OF THE FIST: RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN. By now there are so many "Legends" and "Fists" spinning around that you're probably thoroughly confused, but here's one more to add: in 1995, Donnie Yen played Chen Zhen in the TV series, FIST OF FURY. Now, Andrew Lau and Donnie Yen have teamed up with Shu Qi, Anthony Wong and Hung Bo to make a big, posh bid for IP MAN-level box office by making their own anti-Japanese period movie about a legendary Chinese figure. The only problem is that the movie they've created is boring. Oh, and racist, too.

In LEGEND OF THE FIST, all Japanese people are rapists, cowards, prone to violence and hateful to all things Chinese. At least Jet Li's FIST OF LEGEND gave us some virtuous Japanese characters to round things out, but LEGEND OF THE FIST dispenses with that and exchanges it for Donnie Yen uttering Bruce Lee yelps and shouting, apropos of nothing, "Chinese are not the sick men of Asia." However, I want to give Donnie Yen some credit here: he is the only thing worth seeing in this movie. Andrew Lau's direction feels phoned-in, Shu Qi delivers her umpteenth giggly girl/woman performance that is really getting tired these days and no one else gets much screen time.

But except for a great opening action sequence in the first five minutes, it's all downhill from there. Donnie Yen is a terrific choreographer of his own action, and there are some real touches of humor and creativity in a few sequences in the middle. But the final fight is just more of the same, almost shot-for-shot, from FIST OF LEGEND and FIST OF FURY with almost nothing new added. I'm not sure why people are giving a movie this plodding and poorly made a pass, but I wish they wouldn't. A movie this lousy requires everyone who cares about having fun in a movie theater to squeeze their eyes shut and wish it away.
The credits bill Yasuaki Kurata but fortunately he is limited to appearing in two shots in a flashback. Kurata has class, and the movies that made him a star in the 80′s and 90′s may be crude and obvious (it would be hard to get closer to a Three Stooges martial arts movie than Sammo Hung's Millionaire's Express in which Kurata appears) but they also possessed a certain amount of humor and grace, they had charm and a lightness of touch. LEGEND OF THE CHEN ZHEN FIST OF LEGEND has all the lightness of touch of getting a backrub from a bulldozer.

Anthony Wong turns in something resembling a performance and manages to almost extract an actual character from all this mess, and Huang Bo is doing his best with bad material. But seriously, this movie is just a snooze. The stretches between the action scenes are interminable, and the action scenes themselves get worse as the movie progresses, which is sort of the opposite of what you want to have happen.

Everyone involved has been better. Hell, even HOLY VIRGIN VS THE EVIL DEAD looks like a masterpiece in comparison. The only legend on display in this movie is its own Legend of Stinkiness.

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Wai-Keung LauGordon ChanChi-Sing CheungKoon-nam LuiFrankie TamDonnie YenQi ShuAnthony Chau-Sang WongBo HuangActionDramaHistory

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Around the Internet

HieuSeptember 17, 2010 4:45 AM

Oh man, this is disappointing. I guess I'll see for myself if it's as bad as this review says.

anton_esSeptember 17, 2010 6:06 AM

stupid nationalismn in recent kung-fu movies is getting on my nerves. bummer about donnie, he seemed to touch gold with each of his projects...but well, you can't have everything. let's hope his next movie is a high note in his career.

LesterSeptember 17, 2010 9:30 AM

That first paragraph makes me think that someone at CHUD wrote this.

ChevalierAguilaSeptember 17, 2010 11:01 AM

Hong Kong directors are desperate to please mainland authorities these days. It sucks, but i guess they just want the market of mainland and nothing more.

StephenSeptember 17, 2010 12:01 PM

Yeah, I really don't want to see that us Chinese are that simple-minded, which is what the Chinese film industry seem to think. This whole "appealing to Mainland China" is slowly but surely killing Hong Kong cinema.

Kurt HalfyardSeptember 17, 2010 12:40 PM

I could not agree more with Grady on this one. After that first excellent scene involving kung fu vs. WWI soldiers, I wanted a whole movie of THAT, not the super-cheap Marvel Comics by way of hokey Chinese Nationalism that this film is. It's an embarrassment that cannot even be enjoyed as Camp. Painful.

MartenSeptember 17, 2010 12:58 PM

Honestly, I'm surprised many on this site have given Ip Man 2 a pass. That movie was brimming with stereotypes, cliches and wire-fu.

And I'm not sure if I agree with the comment about Donnie touching gold with each of his projects. Painted Skin, An Empress and the Warriors, Ip Man2, 14 Blades, Bodyguards & Assassins.....all mediocre at best.

DooKSeptember 17, 2010 1:00 PM

Not really. Sure, the censors and government are having a great deal on how HK movies end up being but there aren't other choices. The decline of Hong Kong Cinema has nothing to do with the mainland, it's because support from studios and audiences back in HK started sinking due to several factors (competition from Hollywood, pirating, talents relocating to the west, less chances/opportunities, lack of new real talent etc). That's why HK talents are relocating to the mainland as the market is bigger and support is positive.

DooKSeptember 17, 2010 1:02 PM

Disagree with Ip Man 2, 14 Blades and B&A but agree on the rest.

Rhythm-XSeptember 17, 2010 2:32 PM

I feel kind of bad for Well Go USA. They did the right thing in buying this film quickly rather than waiting for imports and piracy to erode the market for it. They even plan on releasing it in theaters here. Then it turned out to be, by seemingly all accounts, an utter shit sandwich of a movie. Silver lining - being an utter shit sandwich didn't stop THE EXPENDABLES from cleaning up, so hopefully Well Go can eke a couple of bucks out of this and get away clean... bruised but unbroken.

MartenSeptember 17, 2010 4:44 PM

Man....I'm craving something in line with SPL and Flashpoint. Good old-fashioned ass-kickery.

And on that note, what happened to Wu Jing? The guy is definitely not lacking in talent. It's a shame he's been grossly under-utilized so far.

Todd BrownSeptember 17, 2010 9:14 PM

Charisma deficit and a lousy manager, basically.

ChevalierAguilaSeptember 18, 2010 12:40 AM

Also, he still struggles with cantonese as far as i know. Thus the reason he was given many "silent" bad guy roles.

Bob ViolenceSeptember 18, 2010 2:48 AM

Let's also not forget here that there were no good Japanese in the '72 FoF either. Of course Fist of Legend came out at a time when Japan was still an important market for HK films. Now the mainland trumps all else and filmmakers don't have to be so circumspect.

The upshot is that we're seeing fewer evil South Asians.

gotadventureSeptember 18, 2010 2:49 AM

Wait a tic, you make it sound like a bad thing to masturbate to pictures of Bruce Lee, I do it often and can assure you it is very cinematic. Donnie Yen, just must be doing it wrong.
That's the problem when you do too many iternal martial arts, hard to get a good money shot.
Sad, really.

Bob ViolenceSeptember 18, 2010 4:35 AM

this was supposed to be a reply to DiP, I blame society

acheloneSeptember 24, 2010 10:02 PM

I have watched this film and i think its okay for a casual viewing. Donnie Yuen is there what can u ask for more (lol).

I am particularly disturb to a point of disgust that this film portrayed the everthing except Chinese (British and Japanese in this movie) as entity of pure evil. Although realistically in the time of japanese invasion of Nanking and China this is not far from the truth as Japanese treatment during occupation but the script need to inject some neutrality in it.

Sure Shu Qi (as Ki Ki) seem portray some neutrality in this movie but it doesn't balanced out nicely as Fist of Legend (actually this movie remind me more like Bruce Li Fist of Fury, my least fav movie of Bruce Lee ). This goes to other Donnie Yuen movie like Ip Man 1 & 2. Potraying foreigner as total jerk really turn me down somewhat.

The other thing is the last fight with the colonel is a let down. Some fancy move here and there but its too short. Would really love if the fight seem more varied and brutal at the same time (which remind me of Jet Li Fist of Legend).

My conclusion its not that bad (i've seen worse...) and its watchable but i feel it doesn't satisfy me as Fist of Legend was.

melodyhillradioSeptember 25, 2010 2:48 AM

I agree. The opening parkour-inspired scene was amazing. Then the movie just got worse from there. I really hated the comic-book feel of it.
I noticed the anti-Japanese sentiment in the movie. On one hand, it's bad to be biased. However, this is real history. and a painful one at that. These things need to be acknowledged.

https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawlZdk7oG65MZ5QLP-YgxzG1-L2Iu1N4t0oNovember 9, 2010 2:45 PM

not sure whether its a lousy manager , charisma deficit. i think he has been given good chances and he is still working, which is the main thing. i think the problem is that the vehicles that he is allowed to shine arent that good. also he needs a choreographer and isnt a performer, whereas donnie , jackie, samo, tony jaa ( remember him?), all choreograph their own work. plus wu jing doesnt have any signature moves which would help.he looked cool in spl only because of donnies choreography and his character ( bad guy cameo was good). wu jing is a good actor when all the elements come together. he needs a choreographer ( i think so far he has nicky li who gives him too much wirework IMO) and a story and director who can bring out the best in him. watch fatal contact. that was a great film. also end scene of invisible target.

xinoDecember 27, 2010 10:08 PM

Grady took the words out of my mouths about this movie!

it was definitely disappointing and darn racist!

It's alright to say Japanese are invading China, but they made a big point about it. Indicating images of Japanese soldiers, so rude and racist!